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by Phil Hine
I am the Ilame that burns in every heart oI man. and in the core oI every star.
I am LiIe. and the giver oI LiIe; yet thereIore is the knowledge oI me the knowledge oI Death.
AL II: 6
The Awakening oI the Kundalini or Fire-Snake is a central Ieature oI contemporary Magick. which
has assimilated the concept Irom its original Tantric source. Although the concept oI Kundalini was
Iirst introduced to Western occultists by Theosophists such as Alice Bailey and C.W. Leadbeater. it
took the more detailed writings oI Arthur Avalon and Aleister Crowley to launch signiIicant
numbers oI Western occultists in search oI this experience. It was Crowley in particular who
provided a synthesis oI Western and Eastern magical practices. and leIt Ior Iuture occultists an
integrated approach towards Kundalini experience. identiIying it as the central 'magical power' in
the human organism. Crowley's (enthusiastic) experiments with both drugs and sexual magick were
a Iar cry Irom the "spiritual asceticism" expounded by many oI his contemporaries. While
"spirituality" was generally seen in terms oI philosophies that reiect the bodily or somatic
experience. Crowley laid the Ioundations oI a Western approach to development which integrated
both the psychic and somatic areas oI experience. It was not until the 1960's. and the arrival oI the
"Psychedelic Era" that such an approach received widespread (and serious) attention. The 1960's
ushered in the beginnings oI what Timothy Leary terms "hedonic technology" - the discovery oI
pleasure over restriction via drugs. sexuality. dance. music. massage. yoga and diet. The
"Psychedelic Era" also brought with it a great "Occult Revival". with particular interest in
hedonistically-orientated magick. such as Tantra and Crowley`s cult oI Thelema.
Out oI this explosion in consciousness came the developments in magical thought and practice oI
the 1970's. particularly Kenneth Grant's exposition oI Crowley. Tantric doctrine and the works oI
Austin Osman Spare. Thelemically-oriented magazines such as SOThIS. Agape and The New
Equinox provided Iocal points Ior the evolution oI magical techniques and considerations.
Awareness oI the physiological nature oI intense states oI consciousness was growing. and magick
was increasingly becoming viewed as an approach to development that integrated both inner.
mental experience and bodily awareness. The placing oI "potentia" was within the individual rather
than any external power.
Since the 1960's. The "awakening" oI Kundalini has become an experience that many Westerners
seek. Magick is one oI the maior routes. yoga another. also ecstatic cults presided over by various
gurus. There is a great deal oI InIormation written on the subiect. ranging Irom extremely technical
writers such as Kenneth Grant. to popular works on Kundalini-Yoga and Tantrik-derived sex-
manuals. Like many other occult subiects. there are now many books written "Irom the armchair".
where a writer perpetuates a particular view oI a subiect. rather than writing Irom direct experience.
This has led to much conIusion and misconception concerning the whole nature oI Kundalini and its
attendant experience. The power oI the experience to transIorm consciousness in varying degrees
seems to be almost universally recognised. but some writers warn against practising Kundalini-yoga.
whilst others give the impression that little more is required than a Iew basic yoga asanas. and a
willing partner oI the (usually) opposite sex. Is your Kundalini rising or are you iust pleased to see
2. Personal Experience
So what is meant by the term Kundalini experience? Kundalini is a Sanskrit word that can be
translated as "coiled up". Kundalini is represented in many Tantrik illustrations as a sleeping
serpent. coiled 3½ times. at the base oI the spinal cord. The popular view oI Kundalini is that it is a
dormant power that lies waiting to be unleashed. by means oI various practices. The "serpent
power". once awakened. is coaxed up the central channel oI the spine. entering the chakras (psychic
energy centres) until it reaches the Crown chakra - and the yogi achieves "illumination".
Sounds straightIorward doesn't it? But the Kundalini experience is a much more complex
phenomenon. There seems to be no general consensus view oI Kundalini. once one begins to delve
into the subiect. Western scientists and Eastern mystics. ancient sages and modern researchers - all
have produced widely-varying explanations oI what Kundalini is all about.
As with any other kind oI "occult" experience. the most useIul way to proceed is Irom personal
experience; and Ior Kundalini - direct experience oI it changed my attitude towards it (and many
other things besides) and set me on the track oI Iinding my own answers.
When I Iirst encountered the subiect oI Kundalini. in the writings oI Kenneth Grant and Gopi
Krishna. I developed the misconception that this was something to deIinitely avoid until I was
"more advanced" as regards magical and yoga abilities. So what happened? - I had a Kundalini
experience. Shock-Horror! It came Iollowing a long period oI Bhakti-yoga upon the goddess Kali.
which culminated in a vivid "death-rebirth" vision oI being burned alive on a stone slab. then being
The Kundalini experience occurred seven days later. I had been experiencing acute discomIort all
day. without being able to pinpoint any particular source. In the evening. I was meditating with the
Priestess Raven. Suddenly I experienced what I can only describe as a Iit - muscles went into spasm.
my teeth began chattering. I Ielt hot and cold Ilushes. and. with spine arching backwards. began to
hyperventilate. Raven held me down and helped me to relax and "go with it". The "Iit" lasted Ior
about twenty minutes. and as it Iaded I Ielt quite weak and dizzy. Raven. a qualiIied yoga teacher
with over 20 years oI experience in Hatha and Raia yoga. remarked that she thought it was "the
Serpent beginning to shiIt".
This occurrence was abrupt. extremely physical . and beyond my conscious volition. All the
preconceptions I had about Kundalini (and about being in control oI experience) were suddenly
shattered. Underneath all the conIusion though. there was an intuitive certainty that what was
happening was "right".
Over the next 28 days. both the Priestess Raven and I experienced "acute" Kundalini activity -
characterised by muscular spasms around the base oI the spine. euphoria. out-oI-the-body
experiences and hallucinations. Here is a report oI one oI the most disorientating experiences
(5/10/84. beginning approx. 11.30 pm):
It began as a scream in my head - "Kali's scream" - I thought. It echoed on and on. Ior what seemed
like Iorever. until I no longer heard it but Ielt it and saw it - a white light which shot down my spine
into the base chakra. which opened with a blaze. A cold sensation spread slowly around my body -
it Ielt like each individual nerve was alight. A very "iarring" sense oI dissociation built up. When I
closed my eyes. this rapidly became a sensation oI whirling at high speed. accompanied by swirling
patterns oI colour. I was soon oblivious oI other people in the room. and adopted the lotus asana as
the best posture to keep myselt "together". This went on Ior over an hour."
Roughly at the same time. the Priestess Raven experienced a vision oI Kali. coupled with a Ieeling
oI extreme rage. She "heard" wolves howling. and her cat became terriIied oI her and would not
Once the acute phase oI Kundalini had abated. we then had to try and make some sense oI it. which
led me to examine Kundalini in a new perspective.
The Iirst point to be made is that Kundalini isn't an isolated area oI occult experience. Though It is
oIten written about in a way that suggests this. That Kundalini can be "awakened" through a variety
oI techniques such as yoga. dancing. drumming. Intense devotion (Bhakti). sexual asanas. various
meditations and use oI psychoactive agents Indicates that it is a core Ieature oI
magickal/transIormative experience. When I had my Iirst acute Kundalini experience. I hadn't been
working Ior such an event. so it must have been "triggered" by other Iactors.
A close study oI tantric texts reveals that Kundalini is. rather than being a dormant "potentia"
sleeping until consciously raised. rather a kind oI organising priciple that maintains systems in
equilibrium at all scales - Irom the subatomic to the cosmic. In the "Sat-Cakra-Nirupana" text.
Kundalini is reIerred to as the "world-bewilderer" - the root oI the physical world. Kundalini is seen
as a particular Iorm oI Shakti (energy) with dominion over matter. "coiled" Kundalini is oIten
reIerred to as "sleeping" - but sleeping as in the sense oI Sushupti - the thought-Iree state oI no-
mind. It is coiled Kundalini which maintains the physical universe. The activity oI Kundalini in
Individual systems (i.e. organic beings) is guided by the Jivatman - the embodied liIe-spark. To use
a holographic analogy. the Jivatman is a holographic encoding within each individual system to
replicate the holoverse. or Brahman in Tantrika. It is the Jivatman which carries the evolutionary
"program" Ior each individual entity. So it is the Jivatman which "rules" Kundalini activity. not the
"earthbound" ego-complex. This could account Ior the many instances where individuals pursue
Kundalini experiences through yoga and other means without ever getting any spectacular results;
while the sceptic next door can have a powerIul "bliss" experience whilst hanging out the washing
Many Eastern yogis do In Iact warn Western students against trying to consciously "raise"
Kundalini as a speciIic end. Sri Aurobindo's "Integral Yoga" in particular. is concerned with "living
appropriately" and transIormation within the physical world. rather then reiecting it. Integral Yoga
is not concerned wIth seeking "liberation" Irom existence. but IulIilment within the world. whereby
tlie Kundalini rises "in its own time."
This idea bears out my own experience. The only times when I have used exercises speciIically
designed to aIIect the Kundalini (such as Crowley's Liber SSS`) is during periods oI acute Kudalini
activity. when the experience became too disorientating. Any kind oI occult practice or powerIul
transIormative event will aIIect the Kundalini. It "awakens" when conditions in the system it
organises become conducive to its arousal.
Many models whIch seek to explain the phenomena oI Kundalini posit the existence oI cosmic
inner planes and psychic centres - the chakras. Kundalini. in these systems. is conceptualised as a
"spiritual awakening". Fair enough. but such models as expressed by Western authors (such as C.W.
Leadbeater and Alice Bailey) tend to maintain the spiritual-mundane. mind-body division.
exhorting students to reiect the material and seek the "spiritual" liIe. I Iind this idea somewhat
suspect. preIerring not to make such distinctions. At the time oI the initial Kundalini experience. I
was studying neurological medicine and consequently became Interested in evolving a neurological
(and later. Neuromagical) model oI Kundalini activity.
3. Trigger Factors
In describing the onset oI intense states oI awareness. many people use the word "trigger" to
attempt to explain how the experience came about. Trigger Iactors do not cause the experience in
the usual linear Iashion. but somehow Iacilitate it. When such an event occurs spontaneously. we
can only perceive It. and are not aware oI the microscopic patterns oI which it is the peak. The
trigger to a Bliss/Kundalini experience could be the Iinal push which allows all the various
microscopic interactions in the individual system to pass a critical threshhold. thus bringing about a
change in awareness.
Bliss researcher Nona Coxhead has investigated trigger Iactors in transcendental experiences and
outlined some commonly-occurring situations:
Listening to Music Sensation Suicidal Feelings
Response to Nature RelieI Irom Emotional Pressure News oI Terminal Illness
Childbirth Achievement GrieI or Loss
Sports Acceleration LiIe-threatening Situations
Devotion and worship Happiness Clinical death
To these can be added the techniques oI yoga and magick - the various ways oI achieving gnosis;
protracted bodily exercises such as Hatha Yoga or T'ai Chi; visualisation; ritual magick;
contemplation; meditation: use oI drugs. and others. The transIormative experience (oI which
Kundalini is one conceptualisation) can occur spontaneously. or in relation to a systematised set oI
Intense emotional arousal. any technique to Iocus awareness upon one stimulus. and extreme
physiological states appear to be key Iactors. Kundalini-related experiences are intensely body-
oriented. with subiects reporting muscle spasms spatial disorientation. and Ieelings oI being Iilled
with energy. Many people. such as Gopi Krishna. report strange sensations around the base oI the
spine - the site oI the root-chakra Muladhara (root-support). Kundalini is oIten spoken oI in poetic
or mystical terms as moving up the spinal canal. entering the spina1 chakras in turn. I personally
however. am more interested in what could be happening within the Central Nervous System.
During periods oI intense Kunda1ini-arousal 1 experienced great "rushes" oI energy moving up the
spine. Looking at what occurred during such episodes in physiological terms. I was struck by two
points: Firstly. that my body seemed to be showing the kind oI involuntary muscle patterns
displayed during orgasm - only much more pronounced; and secondly. showing an extreme
stimulation oI the autonomic nervous system - hence the hot and cold Ilushes. Ior instance. Just
because one Ieels "strange sensations" at the base oI the spine does not necessarily mean what is
occurring originates in that area. Kundalini arousal could be an entirely neurological event which
gives rise to a variety oI bodily sensations.
So how does this relate to or trigger Iactors? The kinds oI predisposing Iactors outlined above all
have a powerIul eIIect on the human nervous system. It is interesting to note that many ways oI
achieving gnosis are also used In torture and brainwashing - such as sensory deprivation.
sleeplessness. Iasting and pain Aldous Huxley. in his book "Heaven and Hell" (1956) points out
how the spiritual discipines oI mystics aIIected their biosystems:
. it is a matter oI historical record that must contemplatives worked systematically to alter their
body chemistry. with a view to creating the Internal conditions Iavourable to spiritual insight. When
they were not starving themselves into low blood sugar and vitamin deIiciency. they were beating
themselves into intoxication by histamine. adrenallin and decomposed protein in uncomIortable
positions in order to create the psycho~physical symptoms oI stress.
It does appear to be the case that some psvchotechnologies (such as magick) replicate. in a more
controlled and volitional manner. the kind oI intense states oI arousal brought on by emotional
stresses. Emotional arousal brings about Iluctuations in both endocrine and
nervous systems to such an extent that the changes can become a permanent pattern. with
subsequent eIIects on perception. thought patterns and behaviour. Perhaps. in terms oI Kundalini-
type experience. the trigger Iactor(s) relate to the individual's current neurological state at the time
oI the experience`s onset. The trigger Iactor Ior my first Kundalini experience was a dyadic
meditation perIormed with Raven. aimed at blanking out the mind. Predisposing Iactors could be
both long-term inIluences such as general and magical development. and more "recent" inIluences
such as the developing relationship between Raven and myselI. the prolonged Bhakti on Kali and
the death-rebirth vision. and work stresses. I don't believe that such experiences happen "by
accident" but that the patterns leading up to them are not always immediately obvious.
The neurological basis oI meditation has been well-researched by neuroscientists who have
produced some intriguing accounts oI how meditative techniques aIIect the brain. In particular.
there is the phenomena oI "habituation". Habituation is a neural response to the repetition oI one
particular stimulus. Focusing awareness on a single input (be it a visual or mental image. sound.
chant or pattern oI ritualised movement) dampens down sensory input and serves to inhibit the
activity oI the cerebral cortex. A simple example oI habituation at work occurs when you go into a
room where there is a clock ticking. At Iirst it is a new stimulus so you will hear it clearly.
Eventually. especially iI your attention is taken up by something else. you "stop" hearing it. The
neurones Iiring in response to the clock ticking have eIIectively become "bored" and the sound slips
below conscious awareness. Inhibition oI cortical neural activity leads to the inward-turning oI
awareness. The habituation response is mediated Irom a group oI cells in the brainstem known as
the Reticular Activating System. - R.A.S.. This group oI cells serves to censor` sensory input so
that only "meaningIul" stimuli reach the cerebral cortex (which relates to conscious awareness). A
similar state can be induced by intense emotional arousal or shock. as iI all inputs are momentarily
Irozen` by the R.A.S..
4. Awakening the Kundalini
As noted earlier. Kundalini awakens in its "own" time - when the human biosystem/bodymind
complex reaches a certain critical threshhold. Some modern researchers into Kundalini experiences
are trying to understand this process in terms oI the build-up oI key levels oI chemical transmitter
substances (both endocrine gland secretions and neurotransmitter substances) which relate to the
physical and emotional stresses that the individual is undergoing. An allied theory is that oI "neural
coherence". This theory posits that conscious experience is generated by the highly complex
activity oI millions oI neurons in the brain. conscious experience depends on the coherence and
patterning oI this activity. The more ordered the neural activity across the cerebral cortex. the
stronger (more intense) the conscious experience.
We know that a great deal oI inIormation processing within the brain does not reach waking
consciousness. Two Iactors that mediate thIs selection oI stimuli could be the reticular system
discussed above. and the level oI "noise" in the brain. Noise. in cybernetic terms. is random
background activity as opposed to coherent "signals". A high degree oI noise across the cortex
means that the individual is only aware oI the strongest signals. such as sensory inIormation.
Signals that are less strong will be masked by the noise. Any kind oI situation which "clears" the
cortex oI a large degree oI stimulus input reduces the general level oI neural noise. Any kind oI
activity which produces the kind oI neural activity characterised by the habituation response
thereIore reduces neural noise. As this occurs. patterns oI neural activity that are usually masked by
noise come into conscious awareness. In other words. we become aware oI more subtle aspects oI
experience which do not necessarily depend on our space-time bound senses. This could include
psychic perceptions. and the core mystical experience oI being enmeshed within a large "whole" -
be it characterised as God. the Tao. or Chaos. Also. we become aware oI aspects oI somatic
experience that do not normally pass the threshold oI awareness.
A diIIiculty with using "spiritual" models oI Kundalini-type experiences is that it is oIten diIIicult
to account Ior "spontaneous experiences (such as happened to Gopi Krishna) and also. drug-induced
states. Basing all such experiences within a neurological Iramework is not merely an exercise in
reductionism. but an attempt to provide a basis oI understanding which includes these two situations
Many selI-proclaimed authorities decry the idea that drug-induced states are as powerIul (in
spiritual terms) as those attained through more long-term techniques. Writers on the occult oIten
warn against using drugs as a spiritual short-cut". However. research into LSD and similar agents
indicates that subiects do. as a result oI drug-induced experience. go through the proIound liIe-
changes. change in aspirations and "spiritual" awakening that occurs as a result oI more orthodox
disciplines. or traumatIc liIe-events. However. an American researcher. W.N. Pankhe. notes that:
The hardest work may come aIter the experience. in the eIIort to integrate the experience with
This is probably true Ior "trippers" who do not have a coherent belieI-system with which to make
sense oI the experience - witness the number oI "acid casualties" who end up as born-again
Christians. The statement is also true Ior those who have "spontaneous" experiences.
The maior distinction between the drug-induced experience and the "disciplined" approach is that
the latter is much slower. usually more controlled. Moving back to the "critical threshold"
hypothesis at the beginning oI this section. I would suggest that psychotechnologies such as magick
or yoga. over time produce changes In the human biosystem that eventually trigger the Kundalini
experience. These changes relate to the establishment oI patterns oI neural cohesiveness - so that the
practitioner becomes increasingly aware oI the subtler aspects oI experience and changes in other
internal systems. Long practice oI breath control. Ior example. lowers the CO
level in the blood.
which also "smooths out" cerebral activity across the cortex. Although the hardware oI body organs
doesn't change. the soItware does: i.e. the patterns oI neural activity. chemical messengers. and
transport oI vital substances. All these Iactors can equally. oI course. be aIIected by liIe-stresses.
emotional trauma and repeated drug experience.
In these terms. Kundalini could be an organising principle that maintains the harmonious interaction
oI all human biosystems. When we become more aware oI it. we are becoming more receptive to
the internal dynamics oI our own systems and at the same time. opening (as Aldous Huxley put it)
the "Doors oI Perception". It's less that we "awaken" Kundalini. more that Kundalini awakens us.
The riot oI body-systems going into extreme activity oIten experienced as a part oI early Kundalini
shiIts" could be a result oI the progressive soItware changes discussed above. It could represent a
"peak" In the internal evolution oI the bodymind complex. establishing new patterns oI neural
organisation in the brain. In subiective terms. this replaces previous "imprints" about the world and
ourselves with the awakening oI intuitive Iaculties. psychic perception. creativity. new aspirations
and a sense oI being a part oI a greater whole.
I do Ieel that my own Kundalini experience in 1984 marked the turning-point in my own
development. I had to throw out many previously-held conceptions and learn to listen to and trust
my own intuition. Acute peaks in Kundalini activity since that time have not been so disorientating.
but have still released Iurther potentia Ior activity and creative output. Indeed. during such periods
oI activity. I have Iound that the best way Ior me to manage the energy' is to direct it towards some
kind oI proiect. rather than "bottling it up" with meditation and yogic practices.
5. Kundalini and Evolution
Kundalini actIvity in Tantric cosmology relates to the evolution oI physical Iorms. the maintainence
oI the physical universe. and the spiritual evolution oI entities in their return to Brahma - the
noumenal source. It is the Jivatman. the spark oI Brahman within each individual. whIch carries the
instructions Ior our spiritual evolution.
Some Western scientists now regard the DNA-RNA structure as the genetic equivalent oI the
Jivatman. The suggestion has been made that the capacity to have Kundalini and similar
experiences is encoded at the genetIc level. Surprisingly. this hypothesis has come Irom research
into schizophrenia. Research in the last ten years Into the various syndromes collectively reIerred to
as schizophrenia indicates that the subiective states reported by suIIerers oI the illness are similar. in
many ways. to those reported by individuals undergoing "mystical" experiences. An individual's
liability to develop schizophrenia is partially genetically determined. It has been said that
schizophrenia is a gun primed by genetic Iactors. loaded by upbringing. and Iired by some kind oI
trigger experience. Why such genes have survived is a puzzle. but it could be that the same genes
which predispose towards schizophrenia also mediate the internal evolution oI consciousness.
Mystically-oriented commentators on schizophrenia such as R.D. Laing and Jung have drawn
attention to the links between madness and the psychic-transIormative iourney. However. while the
magician or shaman is "swimming". the schizophrenic is "drowning". II the genetic coding oI such
experience is the case. then there are a multitude oI other Iactors which impinge on the Individual to
Iacilitate neurological evolution -"illumination". neurological systems "crash"- schizophrenia. or
many shades oI either extreme.
Many people now believe that the next evolutionary step Ior humanity will be the evolution oI
consciousness. This is extant in current magical ideas such as the "gestalt consciousness" oI the
Ma`at Current. and In "new age" scientiIic paradigms as developed by Rupert Sheldrake
(Morphogenetic Fields). David Bohm (Holoverse) and TImothy Leary (S.M.I
Leary`s 8-circuit model oI neurological evolution in particular provides another way oI interpreting
the kind oI process I have discussed. BrieIly. Leary's theory states that since the design oI the
nervous system is encoded within the DNA-RNA structure. then the evolution oI human beings in
neurological terms is also contained therein. As the individual develops. there occur critical periods
during which the brain accepts imprints which then become core elements oI subsequent learning.
The Iirst Iour circuits ensure genetic transmission and variability. establishing humanity as a
continuing species. The next Iour circuits are the DNA-RNA "Keys" to species evolution and
adaptation. These "higher" circuits are opened when internal conditions are conducive. They
represent states oI consciousness which. aIter a certain intensity oI experience is reached (either by
repeated access to them or by a very powerIul single experience). become hard-wired programs - a
new basic reality' Irom which the individual acts. Once a circuit "opens" in this way. it becomes a
powerIul motivator Ior Iurther development. For example. once bodily rapture (cIrcuit V) has been
experienced. It gives the individual a Ioretaste oI what is beyond the basic survival circuits and their
attendant conditioning. This could spur the individual on to accessing and imprinting the "higher"
This sounds similar to the Kundalini cycle. doesn't it? It is certainly an area which merits Iurther
investigation. and some magicians are now turning to neurologically-based models to integrate and
understand their experiences.
Although much oI what is presented here is done so Irom a scientiIic viewpoint. much oI it is built
Irom very tenuous Iindings - there is still a long way to go in understanding Kundalini in
neurological terms. It's a start. however. My own attitude towards Kundalini remains 5i the lines oI
- "Well. it happens. and then I have to integrate and evaluate the experience aIter it passes". I still
don't work actively Ior Kundalini experience. since I now hold the view that any kind oI magical
work will do this. and I Iind it more appropriate to work Ior speciIic proiects and goals. Peaks in
Kundalini activity with their attendant changes in awareness do result in the kind oI new imprints
that Leary is talking about. I have tended to Iind that whatever "map" oI this experience you impose
over it - whether this be Leary's model. Qabalistic power-zones. Hindu chakras or Taoist chi-zones.
the experience will Iit them. This leads me to Ieel even more that the brain is the central ares oI the
Kundalini experience. Kundalini is. Indeed. the root magical power. since it is the potentia which
can take us. once we are aware oI it. beyond the limitations oI cultural conditioning and space-time.
• Arthur Avalon - Serpent Power
• Nona Coxhead - The Relevance oI Bliss
• Kenneth Grant - Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God
• Aldous Huxley - Heaven and Hell
• Timothy Leary - Exo-Psychology
• Mary Scott - Kundalini In the Physical World
• Douglas & Slinger - Sexual Secrets
• John White (Ed) - Kundalini. Evolution and Enlightenment
• Robert Anton Wilson - Prometheus Rising
|This essay was Iirst published in Chaos International #3. 1987.|
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